Eyeball Tattoo Risk: Permanent Black Eye

One of the risks of eyeball tattooing that I’ve been really averse to talking about — almost refusing to believe it in fact — is that in perhaps 10% of people the procedure results in a permanent black eye [EDIT: I am hearing from some practitioners that they believe the risk is MUCH higher than 10%, perhaps high enough to even be a majority of people -- either way, take this seriously]. Or whatever color eye that matches the tattoo of course. I wish I could tell you exactly why this happens. No one has been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation. Is the ink somehow pulling into the tear or lymphomatic ducts? Being pulled into the tissue through some sort of capillary action? Is it happening because of over-injection? Is it happening because of too much ink being sprayed over the eye that’s not being injected? We’re just not sure yet — and that’s what’s so troubling about this risk. We have no idea how to definitively mitigate it.

Most people with this that I’ve seen have just some small lines of discoloration, but the results can be quite extreme, as you see here on the left eye of Mechanical Demon (tattoo artist at Harness in Helsinki, Finland). His theory on why he got so much discoloration under the eye was that there was some ink on top of the left eyeball after the operation that they couldn’t remove. He figures that while he was dreaming that night, that the combination of the eye’s natural movement and normal self-cleaning mechanisms could have moved the ink down under the lower lid at which point it penetrated the tissue rather than being excreted. He also adds that the discoloration is not close to the surface as with a normal tattoo — it’s much deeper, as if the subcutaneous tissue is black. He’s tried lightening the black patch by tattooing over it with skin tone tattoo ink, with some positive results but not completely covering it. He also wore makeup over it for the first year, but has learned to enjoy it.

It’s important for people to understand that even though eyeball tattooing is now five years old, it is not completely understood. It is likely that this risk can be greatly reduced by minimizing the amount of ink used, and by cleaning any residual ink of the eye — but I can’t promise that. You can see one possible result — I believe on the extreme end — in this photo by Matti Keski-Kohtamäki.


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About Shannon Larratt

Shannon Larratt is the founder of BME (1994) and its former editor and publisher. After a four year hiatus between 2008 and 2012, Shannon is back adding his commentary to ModBlog. It should be noted that any comments in these entries are the opinion of Shannon Larratt and may or may not be shared by BMEzine.com LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by BMEzine.com LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

15 thoughts on “Eyeball Tattoo Risk: Permanent Black Eye

  1. i understand how that could be pretty devastating, but i think the black eye actually looks rather handsome!

  2. considering the risks of getting the eyeball tattoo in the first place, this seems pretty minor. It looks good on him anyway.

  3. Deep tissue face tattoo you say? Looks pretty badass, I’d call that a positive side effect.

  4. James, I don’t think it would be easy to laser it, for two reasons — first, because of the depth of the ink being much deeper in the tissue than a normal tattoo, and second, because I believe this discoloration exists in the first place due to the body’s difficulty in dispersing waste contaminants, so even if you lasered the ink, the broken up parts of the ink might remain in the tissue… Difficult to say for sure though.

  5. I’m not sure if it’s for the same reason, but I have a forearm tattoo, and a chest tattoo, both with color. After both tattoo, I had ink coming out of the armpit on that side of the body… It’s weird, but it could have something to do with the mechanics behind it.

  6. Pingback: Os primeiros globos oculares tatuados no Brasil começam a surgir | Frrrkguys

  7. The cause is due to the fact that the Conjunctiva does not completely surround the eye, Pigment being to thin causes it to leak into the tear ducts and lymphatic system.

  8. So, I was wondering… is there like, any way for all of the people thinking about getting this and the people who have this to keep in contact? Like, is there any group out there where we can all talk about our experiences with it over the years? I think it’d be good to keep everyone connected just in case age starts to effect any of this. I mean, I’ve been reading about how the eye evolves with age and it kind of makes me wonder what will happen – given all the adverse things that can happen to eyes as they change. I just think it’d be a good idea if we all banned together…

    Also, how are your eyes doing? Still able to see? Any differences in vision? I’m not trying to be a jerk face at all! I just wanna make sure we all have a sort of understanding about all of this and have ways to make sure we’re all okay down the road.

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